Since 2005, when he was elected, Cllr Geoff Brodie has been fighting the practice and has submitted his latest motion in hopes of seeing it finally passed.
Set to be heard at the full council meeting next week (26th May), Cllr Brodie’s motion says:
“Council, in recognition of the diversity of religious beliefs and no beliefs in the community we represent, resolves to end the practice of offering largely Christian prayers as a formal part of the opening proceedings of full council meetings.
“Instead it is agreed that any such prayers will be offered before the formal opening of full council.”
Currently, prayers are said at the start of every full council meeting by archdeacon, The Ven Peter Leonard.
At the last council meeting, in February, The archdeacon started the prayers by saying he hoped they helped but if people professed a faith other than a Christian one, he hoped his words could be used in ‘an appropriate way for them’ or if someone professed no faith at all, he hoped it would provide a moment of reflection.
Cllr Brodie, an atheist, left a meeting in 2006 after being criticised by then council leader Andy Sutton for not attending the prayers, saying it was disrespectful — something Mr Sutton then apologised for.
Other local authorities across the country also say prayers at the start of meetings but the Isle of Wight Council says they do not have to be held.
A spokesperson for the council confirmed prayers are not required to be held as part of the meeting, according to the council constitution, and there is no necessity for them to be delivered by a particular faith.
The statement said:
“Ordinarily the incoming chairman nominates who they wish to act in that capacity. Therefore, they could opt for any faith or belief. Indeed, it does not have to be any faith or belief at all.”
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Previous motions from Cllr Brodie to stop the prayers, for fears the prayers might be discriminatory against non-believers, have in some cases received two to five votes.
Speaking about his latest motion Cllr Brodie said:
“I consider it entirely wrong that a secular organisation has formal prayers in one particular religion, let alone any religion. It discriminates in so many ways. I just want it to stop.
“What councillors do before a meeting is entirely up to them.”
The High Court previously ruled in 2012 that the practice was unlawful but powers were given to local authorities by the government for each authority to decide if it is something they would like to do.
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